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Don't Give That Dog a Bone: Weight Loss in Pets

Obesity is one of the most common problems we see from day-to-day and is far more harmful than what initially meets the eye. Similarly to humans, weight gain in animals is simply caused by calorie intake in excess of output (ie - eating more than they're burning). Medical issues exist that can make an animal more prone to weight gain, but normally the culprit is found in their food bowls or being passed off the table in the hands of their owners.

What is considered overweight / obese?

Any dog over 10% of their ideal body weight is overweight, and if they're over 20%, they are labelled as obese.

What can obesity lead to?

There has been a huge amount of research in the human and animal world into to the short and long term effects of carrying a few (or more) extra kilos

  1. Chronic inflammation: Rapidly dividing fat cells (adipocytes) can become oxygen restricted as the blood supply to deliver oxygen cannot develop fast enough. This results in the release of inflammatory cells into the body

  2. Insulin Resistance: Insulin is the hormone which is responsible for pushing glucose into body cells for the production of energy. When excessive fat is stored, resistance to insulin can occur, which can increase blood sugar levels. Although not proven to be a direct cause of diabetes, high body weight and the resulting insulin resistance can make diabetes in cats and dog much harder to treat.

  3. Increased hunger: Obesity alters the release and effectiveness of certain hormones which control hunger in a normal individual. So just being overweight will make an animal hungrier, which results in further weight gain. It's a vicious cycle which is difficult to control.

  4. Cardiopulmonary disease: Can result in heart disease and reduced lung function.

  5. Osteoarthritis and lameness: Inflammation caused by excessive fat cells can spread to the joints, causing intra-articular (joint) inflammation and painful break down of cartilage. In addition, extra weight on the joints can speed the process.

  6. Renal disease

  7. Reduced life span

What can we do about it?

The first step is to rule out diseases that can predispose to weight gain by booking in for a check with your vet. If your animal is found to be overweight but otherwise healthy, it is as simple as reversing the cause. Their energy usage needs to be higher than their energy intake (burning more than they're eating).

Reducing calories in...

Hot dogs are made in the kitchen, not the gym. What this means is that the biggest difference to weight you can make is through reducing calories in, rather than exercise. Although exercise is important, it is much easier to reduce the amount going in than the amount being burnt.

Depending on the individual pet, this may be best achieved with a reduction in daily calories and / or an intermittent fasting feeding plan. This should be discussed with your vet to work out the optimum calorie intake for an healthy and safe rate of weight loss (a general guideline is 1-2% bodyweight per week).

Weight loss type feeds are also recommended. These diets are usually low in fat and calories and high in fibre to increase satiety (the feeling of being full). The addition of low-starch vegetables (carrots, peas, broccoli) can also increase fibre and supply valuable micronutrients required for a healthy immune system, hair, skin and brain.

Increasing calories out...

Although a reduction in calories is the most important, exercise cannot be forgotten. A regular and gentle exercise regime should be introduced to increase the number of calories burnt and to promote healthy joints.

Swimming, walking and playing fetch every day can be great activities to help shift those extra few kilograms. This is also a great opportunity for you and your pet to bond!

What can I expect to see?

As you pet sheds the extra pounds, they will feel lighter and become more active. They will become more mobile, will be able to sit and stand more easily and will be more comfortable in their day-to-day activities.

The signs of arthritis will generally be reduced as the joints have to tolerate less loading and risk of cruciate ligament rupture / other musculoskeletal injury is significantly reduced.

How do we start?

The sooner you become proactive about your pet's weight, the better.

It is a good idea to book in for a consultation for a full health check before you start to rule out any pre-existing diseases which may be contributing to weight gain, and to make sure a reduction in calories and an increase in exercise is safe for you pet.

During the consultation, we will help plan an individualised diet and exercise program which will be sustainable, effective and safe for your pet for a lighter, more comfortable and healthier life.

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